Posts Tagged ‘Adolf in Blunderland’

Ten of the strangest books in my library – part one

August 15, 2019

Liber Usualis

This is a very thick and weighty tome, originally published, I think, for use in monasteries. It contains the music for the main services, in plainchant four-stave notation. I bought it many years ago, not for the music but for the texts of various now long-lost Latin services, and it’s supplemented by a copy of the Tridentine Missale Romanum with Latin rubrics, and also a copy of the Latin Vulgate Bible.

Adolf in Blunderland

This satire after the manner of Lewis Carroll, complete with Tenniel-style illustrations and reworkings of almost all of the songs from Alice, mocking the Nazis and their leaders, is from the mid 1930s, obviously in the days before the real dangers of the Nazi project were clear to many, and knockabout humour was thought sufficient. I bought it when I was still at school, with five shillings – a sizeable sum in those days – of my pocket money. Unfortunately, even though I’ve looked after it carefully, it is showing its age.

Zbior Nazwisk Szlachty

You wouldn’t have expected the Polish communist authorities to have allowed the publication of such a facsimile, of a book which originally appeared in 1805 and is an index of the names of the Polish nobility. It was a gift to my father, which I inherited – our family name is in the book, and it’s a genuine one rather than one from the days when everyone was scrambling to have a gentrified name; it also means we have a coat of arms. Before you all grovel at the thought of my greatness, I should point out two important details: firstly that the nobility was abolished in 1919, and secondly that it was the name that was important, not wealth or property. A peasant could have a noble name, which brought respect and standing along with it, just as it did to a rich man. If you were among the 25%+ of the nation with a name, you could theoretically take part on the election of the king. Yes, you read that right…

Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies (along with Pliny’s Natural History, Ibn Khaldun: The Muqaddimah, and The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition)

I’ve had a soft spot for Isidore for a long time, long before the Vatican named that early encyclopaedist patron saint of the internet. In that curious time known as the Dark Ages, after the disappearance of the Western Roman Empire, monks sought to preserve knowledge, and Isidore complied twenty brief books of etymologies in which he attempted a taxonomy and collation of everything that was known. He ranges widely through arts and sciences; everything looks to God, and the gaps are haunting and the naivete charming or amusing at different times. As we now know, Arab savants also preserved and built upon the knowledge of the ancients, and two of the other texts I mention offer knowledge from their perspective, from mediaeval times. In our days, when we think we know so much, and with such certainty, I find it humbling and refreshing to see the sum total of knowledge, and the picture of the world from the viewpoint of an ancient Roman, a seventh century Spanish monk, or an Arab scientist. Perhaps far in the future, others will look back at our days and our learning and interpretations in a similar way…

Edward Bellamy: Looking Backward (my edition)

I’ve written about the weirdness of this edition here. I commend the utopian vision to you as an interesting and curious read: the idea of a socialist United States is a marvellous one, but still as far off as it was back in 1887.

A tour of my library – concluded

August 14, 2019

There are quite a few ‘oddments’ shelves and sections where the books that don’t fit tidily into a category, or are too large or small to have a space on the appropriate shelf, are ranged.

It’s hard to write about the oddments collectively because they are oddments, objects that have caught my fancy over the years and have been added to my collection. One particular curiosity is Adolf in Blunderland, a satire from the 1930s in the style of Alice in Wonderland, with illustrations after the manner of Tenniel, mocking the German leader and his cronies. I bought it donkey’s years ago when still at school, with my hard-earner pocket money, because the concept amused me so much…

I have a number of outsize books that won’t fit on the appropriate shelves. Several of these are atlases, as well as books about maps and the history of maps, a subject which fascinates me. The largest is a colossal tome, an atlas published just after the First World War, with beautiful maps of all the new countries that came into being as a result of that conflict. I got it for a song at a bookfair many years ago. Its size dwarfs even the large Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World… There’s also a reproduction of parts of Joan Blaeu’s Atlas Maior of the 1660s, which is absolutely wonderful, and which I can spend hours staring at, mentally comparing how people saw the world then and how they see it now. Obviously these books tie in with my interests in travel and travel writing, and are often open alongside as I read about other people’s journeys. I like to follow these journeys on a map, which is why I often bemoan poor or absent maps in travel writing.

Our collection of cookery books lives in the hall, which is about as close as they can get to the kitchen. I’m one of those people who hates following recipes, so cookery books serve as inspiration rather than as step-by-step guides, although I do pay more careful attention to bread recipes when I’m trying out something new in that line…

I love my library, although sometimes I do feel a little oppressed by the sheer size of it, and the realisation that I do need to do some serious culling and focus on those books I really treasure and am going to want to re-read. I cannot imagine living in a house without books, and on the very rare occasion I’ve found myself in one, I have felt distinctly uncomfortable…

Strange books in my library…

December 6, 2014

I don’t know how I found myself thinking about bizarre books, but I do have a few in my library…

Adolf in Blunderland is what the title suggests,  a parody. It features Hitler and his henchmen in 1939, complete with illustrations in imitation of Tenniel’s for Alice in Wonderland, and marvellous rewritings of some of the songs and poems. I came across it in a secondhand bookshop over forty years ago and was moved to pay the then princely sum of five shillings for it (that’s 25p if you don’t do real money). I think I’ve only ever come across one other copy since then.

Many years ago a Polish relative presented me with a copy of a Road Atlas of the Soviet Union (it was often hard to find interesting gifts for people in those days) and it has become a treasured possession. You might expect, what with Russia being an enormous country, that this would be a weighty and considerable tome, but it’s actually quite modest. What stuns you is the vast areas missing from it. In the front of a normal road atlas you usually have an index grid of the country, to show you where to turn to a particular region, and in this one there are vast gaps. It’s not because of censorship, either, just that huge areas have no roads, and you either get to them by air or boat or not at all, because there’s nothing there. You can drive down a road which will have no turn-offs for five, six, seven hundred kilometres. There will be a couple of petrol stations marked, and then the road will end in a small town. And then you would have to turn round and drive all the way back…

Many years ago I heard a short talk on Radio 3 based on a phrasebook published in the nineteenth century in Portugal, for Portuguese people wanting to converse in English. Nothing remarkable, until you realise that the author couldn’t speak a word of English… he had translated it all from a French phrasebook using a dictionary, and it made very little sense at all. A shortened version of that book was actually printed in Victorian times and has been reprinted occasionally since; I came by one many years ago, and it’s a falling-over-and-crying-with-laughter one. You can track it down on the Internet Archive – English As She is Spoke, or A Jest in Sober Earnest.

The amazing people at Mapywig – the Polish Military Geographical institute – saved me a great deal of money by scanning and making available online a book I’d wanted to see for years. Baedeker’s Guides have been famous tourist guides for many years. In 1943 the company was ordered to publish one to the Generalgouvernement, the fiefdom of Hans Frank, the Nazi ruler of the rump of Poland that was not allowed to be called Poland. So, carefully written in proper Nazi ideological style, but unfortunately having still to mention things like the Polish language which hadn’t been eradicated, would-be German tourists are guided through the towns and cities – bombed to ruins, quite often, and the scenes of random massacres, ghettos and mayhem – told how to manage, which hotels to stay in and how to cope with the natives. It was a vanity project, the book is very rare, and the Poles hanged Frank after the war.

Do you have any weirdness in your library?

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